MALONE — Last weekend's weather was stormy, slippery and cold.
But it was nothing compared to the Ice Storm of ’98, which shut down the North Country for several days.
Yet the professionals who serve Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties say that if this area hadn’t been so challenged 15 years ago, we wouldn’t be as ready to take on disastrous weather now.
Freezing rain and sleet coated North Country roads, streets and vehicles Friday, Saturday and Sunday, making driving and walking treacherous.
But area police agencies reported just a handful of property-damage crashes. All county Emergency Operations Centers were activated, but no major events were reported. And power outages were limited to about 1,000 customers over the three counties.
The North Country Chapter of the American Red Cross was called in to help a family of five on Bucks Corners Road in the Town of Saranac Saturday after the electrical-power box was torn off the side of their house.
Clinton County officials said an ice jam caused the junction box to give way, which meant the family — three adults and two children, ages 1 and 16 — had to be relocated.
The Red Cross arranged hotel accommodations until repairs could be made, officials said.
Plattsburgh International Airport Manager Christopher Kreig said Monday that the flight line was back open.
Some previously cancelled flights were being rescheduled by the airlines. Krieg urged passengers to check with their respective airlines to confirm that their travel plans are still in place.
HOSPITAL HANDLES HIT
Michele Powers, director of communications and marketing at CVPH Medical Center, said the Plattsburgh hospital’s operations ran smoothly during the height of the storm.
“Our team monitored the changing situation and gave regular reports throughout the weekend,” she said. “Our facilities crew worked tirelessly to keep the lots and paths clear.”
Emergency-services directors in all three counties lifted travel-ban orders Sunday afternoon and assessed how their efforts went during the worst of the storm.
All were thankful the storm’s punch was softer than predicted.
“We didn’t get as much ice, clearly, and this didn’t have the duration quite as bad as the one in ’98,” said Clinton County Emergency Services Director Eric Day. “The Ice Storm of ’98 lasted three or four days, so this was a very different event.
“We did a lot of advance preparation for this one, so we were more properly prepared,” he said. “But this one was quite different. It wasn’t long, and there wasn’t as much ice.”
ICE HERE FOR A WHILE
Day said the National Weather Service has advised emergency officials that temperatures will stay around or under zero for several days.
“We’re going to have cold temperatures the rest of the week, right through Christmas morning, potentially, so the ice is not going away any time soon,” he said. “But there is no threat of rain or ice pellets.”
Franklin County had its emergency personnel as well as State Police, New York forest rangers and State Office of Emergency Management representatives staffing its Emergency Operations Center until it was closed down at 9 a.m. Monday.
Officials in all three counties said they would continue monitoring conditions and reactivate the centers if needed.
TREE TRIMMING PAYS OFF
Small pockets of homes remained without power Monday, but utility crews were continuing their work to restore service.
Essex County Emergency Services Director Don Jaquish said roughly 200 New York Electric and Gas customers lost power over the weekend in Chesterfield, Keene, Wilmington and Jay.
“I credit that to the power companies that operate in Essex County because they had an aggressive tree-trimming campaign. They hired a tree company to come in all summer long and cut back tree after tree after tree.
“The investment was money well spent,” Jaquish said because fewer ice-caked branches and limbs were in a position to break off and come down on power lines, which prevented widespread disruption of electrical service.
During the 1998 Ice Storm, he reminded, 20,000 to 30,000 homes were without power for days.
The Emergency Operations Center in Lewis was shut down at 10 a.m. Monday.
"We were prepared for the storm, utilities were prepared, and any problems that resulted were handled as quickly as possible," Jaquish said.
A convoy of seven out-of-area power-company trucks headed out of Elizabethtown Monday morning, after having been brought it to supplement local crews.
"There was no comparison; this storm wasn’t very much of anything compared to the Ice Storm of ’98,” Jaquish said. “It was just such a lesser event. However, we were much better prepared, better trained and better equipped.
"And I’m not talking about just Emergency Services — I mean fire departments, EMS, the state and county transportation departments.
“I couldn’t believe you could still drive on the roads here,” Jaquish said, “but that shows you what an exemplary job they did.
“We’ve learned many things since the (1998) Ice Storm that helped mitigate what we could have had. Things could have been far worse.
“It’s a case of practice makes perfect,” Jaquish said. “We’ve had Hurricane Sandy, the St. Valentine’s Day storm and now this, so we’re gaining experience. And we keep getting better at what we do.”
Franklin County Emergency Services Director Ricky Provost noted that neither he nor the other directors were in their respective jobs in 1998.
The Franklin County director was Malcolm Jones, the Essex County director was the late Ray Thatcher, and Jim King was director in Clinton County.
“They didn’t have the electronics and technology we have today,” Provost said, “so we have kind of taken to the next level and are working together.
“During this storm, myself, Eric, Don and Brian LaFlure of Warren County were on conference calls twice a day with each other.
"And every morning and afternoon we were on with the National Weather Service in Burlington so we, as a group, were prepared and worked together.”
Jaquish obtained grant funds to buy each director and his deputy an iPad, enabling them to conference whenever a situation arises.
The directors also use the same paperwork and forms to streamline communications, which frees them up for more important tasks, like coordinating resources, when disaster strikes.
“I take a lot of pride in our working as a group,” Provost said, adding that few, if any, other regions of the state have similar relationships.
“Separately, we don’t have the resources or money as other places to get things we need,” he said, “but by working together, we can be aggressive and progressive.”
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State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued a statement Monday, reminding consumers to be aware of vendors charging more for essential supplies following the emergency ice-storm declaration made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Items at greatest risk of higher prices include food, water, generators, gasoline, batteries and flashlights or services such as tree trimming and emergency-structural repairs.
"While most vendors understand that customers are also neighbors and would never think to take advantage of others during such disruptive times, the conduct of some businesses after Hurricane Sandy shows us that times like these require extra vigilance and caution," Schneiderman said in a news release. "It is my responsibility to enforce the price-gouging law, and while my hope is that I will not need to do so, my office is certainly prepared to take action," he said.
To file a complaint, call 800-771-7755 or visit the Attorney General's website at www.ag.ny.gov.